Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 1 of 2014/15

Flip's the man in charge!  (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Flip’s the man in charge! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back and fans have their #EyesOnTheRise!  Welcome to the start of the 2014/15 NBA season and our weekly preview here at Timberpups.com.  While this is very likely to be a year of transition, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine joining the club and being paired with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng.  With other pieces remaining in the mix from last season, the Wolves have a decent balance of youth and veteran experience.  Who remains with the club throughout the season, past the trade deadline and into the next few years is a bit of question mark.  However, there is excitement in the air and that should be carried over to the crowds filling into the Target Center in the days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief preview of each game on the schedule, along with who to watch for and a prediction on the outcome.  The quest for an 82-0 season begins soon and we’ll see how long the team can stay at that pace.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/29, 7pm – Pups @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

Look at this – the Wolves don’t open another season against the Sacramento Kings!  The Grizzlies are coming off of its second 50+ wins season.  The Grizz took the OKC Thunder to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs but failed to advance.

Memphis has added several interesting pieces to their roster this season, including Vince Carter and Earl Clark.  While the Wolves turned the corner and gave up on the failed and flawed ‘playoffs or bust’ philosophy, the Grizzlies continue to look for ways to advance in the postseason.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley is entering his eighth season in the NBA and with the Grizzlies.  Conley really beat up Rubio and the Wolves’ backup Point Guards last season, averaging 17.5ppg and 6.3rpg.

Predictions:

This is a tough start for the Wolves, playing on the road and against a veteran club that looks to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.  Final score: Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 84

Game 2: Thursday, 10/30, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Pups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home opener is against a team that has struggled to build an identity over the past handful of seasons and has thrown free agency money around with no sense of direction.  Enter Stan Van Gundy as the new coach and a new philosophy.

While there are players that can fill up the box score in the Pistons lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with the club.  Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are all interesting players for your NBA fantasy team, but they aren’t leading to many victories for the Pistons.

Monroe had an interesting offseason in which he was charged with a DUI and suspended two games, so he won’t be in uniform against the Wolves.  He also turned down a contract extension from the club and is playing on the one year, qualifying offer.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Drummond – Drummond enters his third season in the NBA and has shown signs of continued improvement in the preseason.  Andre averaged 13.5ppg and 13.2rpg last season, starting all 81 of the games he played in.  It will be a nice litmus test for both Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to see how they match up with the Pistons big man.

Predictions:

With the absence of Monroe and a fired up Target Center, the Wolves have a good chance to pull off the victory.  The Pistons will also be flying into Minnesota off of a Wednesday night game, having to face the Nuggets in Denver less than 24 hours prior to tip-off of Thursday’s action.  Final score: Timberwolves 95, Pistons 91

Game 3: Saturday, 11/1, 7pm – Chicago Bulls @ Pups (TV: NBA TV & FSN Plus)

Assuming they can stay healthy – and that is a big assumption to make – the Chicago Bulls are one of a handful of legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship this season.  The team will be looking to fix what looked to be broken at the end of last year, after losing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs (without Derrick Rose).

Opponent to watch:

Pau Gasol – One of, if not the most underappreciated players in today’s game, Gasol left the Lakers to join the Bulls for a chance at another run at a ring.  Gasol will team with DPOY Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to make for one of the more dominant frontline rotations in the NBA.

Predictions:

The Wolves will have a hard time keeping pace with the Bulls.  Final score: Bulls 113, Timberwolves 96

Wrap-up:

The Wolves face two very tough teams to open the season in the Grizzlies and Bulls.  I am hoping they are able to showcase their young talent in the home opener and get the fanbase excited early.  A win against the Pistons club would mean “a lot”.

Let’s go Wolves!

Recap – Timberwolves 114, Pistons 101

The Pistons wouldn't dare hire this man ... would they?! (Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

The Pistons wouldn’t dare hire this man … would they?!
(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

 

Coming off a loss that I’m going to try to stop thinking about Wednesday night against the Knicks, The Timberwolves entered Friday night’s affair with a 30-30 record.  The 24-37 Pistons took to the Target Center floor amidst rumors of Isiah Thomas weaseling his way into the Motor City and knocking Joe Dumars out of a job.  Only one of those two thoughts should be a reality (hint: it’s the latter).  The Pistons had lost 8 of 10 coming into tonight’s action, affording the Wolves another opportunity to capitalize.

No surprises for the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Pistons opened up with Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond.

First Half 

Perhaps due to their #WolvesKlondike contest on social media (kidding … and I missed by one basket at the end!) the Wolves tried to feed Nikola Pekovic early.  However, it was Kevin Martin who got off to a hot start, scoring six of the team’s first eight points.  The Wolves caught a break early with Greg Monroe picking up two quick fouls.  With that, Minnesota was off and running taking a 17-9 into the first timeout.

Here is what you need to know about the remainder of the 1st quarter: the Wolves only shot three 3PT’ers (hitting two of them) and had 39 points in the first twelve minutes.  How?  They attacked the rim time and time again.  This lead to 9-11 on the FT line and shooting over 50% from the field in the opening frame.  That may have been the best execution I have seen this season, as the Wolves took a 39-21 lead into the break.

As Adelman went further and further down the bench, the Pups managed to maintain their double digit advantage.  I’ve verbally abused (on the internet) JJ Barea over the past two months (note: deservedly) but he had a nice run in the quarter, dropping 4 points and 5 assists in his first stint on the floor.  Going into a timeout, the Wolves held a 61-38 and the Pistons body language was already showing signs of giving up.

With the score 66-45 at the break, here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • The Wolves bench had 24 points at the half, led by Barea, LRMAM, and Chase Budinger.  The team really needs to see Budinger make significant steps over the remainder of the season.
  • He makes it really easy to make fun of him, but who else on the roster is Brandon Jennings going to rely on to score consistently?  Key word, “consistently”.

Second Half 

Things didn’t get any better for the Pistons to start the 3rd quarter.  In fact, it got worse.  From the scoreboard, to their effort, and to their body language, everything looked to be going downhill for Detroit.  The Pistons called their first timeout of the half after falling behind 77-51.

Here is what you need to know about the rest of the quarter: it was great from a Wolves’ perspective and it was mortifying from a Pistons’ view.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Wolves held a 97-69 advantage.  Oddly enough, it felt about 1.3 times worse than this.  I spent most of the quarter talking to Wolves Twitter and could barely keep my eyes on the game.

In typical Wolves-bench fashion, they had an opportunity for extended playing time in the 4th quarter and managed to look god-awful in the process.  The Pistons got off to a 13-2 run, forcing Adelman to burn a timeout with about 7 minutes left in the game so that he could bring back the starters.  The Pistons cut it to an 11 point advantage but the Wolves were able to hold on to the victory.

(What you are not seeing here is an epic JJ Barea rant.  He deserves one, but I’m going to check in with Al on how he feels about a full write-up dedicated to this.)

Final score, 114-101 – with the win moving the Pups record to 31-30 on the season.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Kevin Love – 28 & 14 and a nice game shooting (10-18 from the field)
  2. Kevin Martin – Had it going early and opened this game up for the Wolves
  3. Ricky Rubio – Closed in a triple-double with 11 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds 

Key Takeaways

  • There are two key takeaways from this game from a Wolves’ perspective … what was a laugher of a game became way too close for comfort due to the struggles of the bench yet again.  Barea and Dante Cunningham are absolute shadows of themselves and what they are bringing to the team this season vs. what they have in the past.
  • The attitude (I’ll keep it PG-rated) of Barea is beyond nauseating.  He could save a family from a burning building and find a way to annoy me at this point.  Fair?  Maybe not.  Deserved?  I think so.

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94

Corey Brewer goes "up high and down hard" (Harlan, Kevin) (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Corey Brewer goes “up high and down hard” (Harlan, Kevin)
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

The 9-11 Timberwolves travelled to Detroit to take on the 10-11 Pistons.  The Wolves went into the game a disappointing 3-7 on the road, so nothing was to be taken for granted.  No changes in the Wolves’ starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  The Pistons opened up with Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond.

Game Summary [Read more…]

Minnesota Timberwolves 96, Atlanta Hawks 104

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Another fourth-quarter lead, another fourth-quarter lead squandered. Following their emphatic victory over Houston on Saturday, the Minnesota Timberwolves got off to another fast start in Atlanta, possessing at one time an 18-point lead in the second-quarter and leading the Hawks at the half 58-44. With Rick Adelman still on personal leave due to family matters, the Pups were outsmarted in the second half and ultimately fell in Atlanta by a score of 104-96.

Al Horford scored a game-high 28 points and Minnesota had no answer for him defensively. Still without Nikola Pekovic who continues to sit due to a right thigh contusion, the Timberwolves desperately missed their bruiser in the middle. In his place, Greg Stiemsma got another start at center and played well despite his limited offensive game. For the second straight game, Stiemsma recorded 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, but this time he was able to provide 11 points as well. In 28 minutes, he was the only Timberwolves starter with a positive plus-minus (+5).

After stealing the show with his impressive Timberwolves debut against the Rockets, recently signee Chris Johnson committed 5 fouls in a mere 10 minutes and was held to only 4 points. Johnson, who hit both of his field goal attempts, has still not missed a field goal attempt for the Wolves.

The other 10-day man, Mickael Gelabale, played very well but only received 16 minutes of playing time despite making all 3 of his field goal attempts, including 1 of the teams combined 5 three-point conversions. After receiving fourth-quarter minutes over the likes of Derrick Williams last game against Houston, D-Will was on the court during crunch time while Gelabale watched the Wolves blow another late-game lead. I understand that Williams was playing very well up until the fourth-quarter, as he scored all of his 17 points through the first three quarters before being shutout in the fourth. I also understand that the team may be giving D-Will more minutes in order to potentially showcase him to other teams, but the decision to keep Gelabale on the bench when he was one of our only players drilling perimeter shots was a very confusing decision to me.

Dante Cunningham returned from illness and scored 13 points (6-10 FG) with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and only 1 turnover in 26 minutes. It was nice to get DC Hustle back to the roster, and he provided good energy in his time on the floor. Andrei Kirilenko once again did a little bit of everything, scoring 13 points (3-8 FG) with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes. However, he turned the ball over 6 times and was out of control on many of his drives to the basket.

Having received 30 minutes of playing time on Saturday, Ricky Rubio played 25 minutes and looked timid to shoot the ball all night. Despite tallying 6 assists, Rubio scored 5 points on only 4 shot attempts, choosing to defer to a teammate even when presented with plenty of scoring opportunities. His partner in the starting backcourt, Luke Ridnour, played pretty well in 34 minutes of playing time, scoring 12 points (5-13 FG) with 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 3 steals.

JJ Barea had a nice game up until the end, when he made yet another crucial turnover with the game seperated by only 4 points with a few minutes remaining in the fourth-quarter. JJ was a team-high +6 on the floor and dazzled Atlanta fans with a few fancy finishes in traffic at the rim. Barea finished with 14 points (6-11 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 23 minutes.

Keys of the Game

  • Three-point Shooting: ATL 10-16, MN 5-14 – Minnesota did a poor job of making in-game adjustments to cover Atlanta shooters Kyle Korver and Jannero Pargo, and each shooter had plenty of open looks which contributed to Atlanta shooting 62.5% as a team from deep. Korver has been drilling open three-pointers year after year, and he will continue to punish teams that do not close out properly. Former Pup Anthony Tolliver scored all of his 6 points drilling both of his three-point attempts.JJ Barea led the Pups with 2 three-pointers, and the rest of the team managed to convert on only 3 more. Depending on what the Timberwolves’ strategy for the rest of the season is, it may be time to start to put serious consideration into trading for a player like JJ Redick.
  • Passing (Team Assists): ATL 32, MN 24 – Ball movement was crucial to Atlanta’s second-half success in the half court offense, and their passing into the interior helped establish Al Horford on the low block and around the rim. One of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, Atlanta’s offense depends on a series on screens designed to get their shooters open, and starting PG Jeff Teague did a very good job of finding open teammates on the perimeter. Teague led the Hawks with 10 assists.
  • Bench Scoring: ATL 55, MN 38 – This game came down to a battle of depth, and Atlanta took advantage of the Wolves’ injury-depleted roster with help from Pargo, Korver, and Mike Scott. Scott, a rookie out of Virginia, scored a career high 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds while bringing good energy off of the bench for a Hawks team that got off to a slow start.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Al Horford: Quite a productive night on both ends of the floor for Horford, who was the beneficiary of some impressive high-low passing from his teammates, particularly Josh Smith. The Florida product made mincemeat of what remains of Minnesota’s depleted frontcourt, and hit 12 of his 20 field goal attempts on his way to a game-high 28 points. On the defensive end, Horford swatted 3 shots and recorded 2 steals while pulling down 10 rebounds in 38 minutes. The oft-injured center for Atlanta has found a way to stay healthy this season having now played in 39 of the team’s 41 games so far.
  2. Jannero Pargo: Minnesota is not the only team getting help from their 10-day players. After being signed to a 10-day contract on Monday morning, Pargo returned to Atlanta and hit 4 of his 5 three-point attempts, helping to fuel a fourth quarter comeback and securing the win with some clutch shooting. The 33-year-old veteran came through for a Hawks team in desperate need of backcourt help, and finished with 16 points (6-11 FG), 4 assists and no turnovers in an impressive performance off the bench.
  3. Josh Smith: J-Smoove put on full display the evolution of his game since his earlier years in the league with his passing and shot selection against the Timberwolves, scoring only 10 points (5-8 FG) but tallying 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Smith was a master at finding Horford moving around in the paint, and established a dominant high-low game with Horford which dissected the Timberwolves defense in the second half. In 34 minutes, Smith was a game-high +18 on the floor.